Environmental Hero: Chavannes Jean-Baptiste

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, Islands & Island Nations (Haiti). Image credit: Courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

Environmental Hero: Chavannes Jean-Baptiste

Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.

In 1973, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste witnessed the lush country he grew up in turning into a desert. Founding the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP), his mission became to teach Haitian peasant farmers and the community-at-large about the principles of sustainable agriculture and to bring solidarity to the people. Jean-Baptiste saw that the unsustainable farming practices creating these arid conditions had to change and that the first step was to educate the people. The MPP created a compound specifically for regenerative agricultural training. In this way, the local farmers could be empowered and help return their homeland back into a flourishing paradise. 

Once a thriving tropical forest, Haiti became massively deforested with trees covering a mere 2% of the land. With no trees to prevent erosion, every storm depleted Haiti’s topsoil more and more. When soil erodes, fertile land becomes barren which leads to food shortages. Haiti’s economic well-being depends on preserving its fertile topsoil. To further the crisis, many rural communities were forced to fell the few remaining trees to sell as charcoal, which was the only way they could make money to survive.

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, Islands & Island Nations, at a traditional konbit- a communal work day spent building walls to conserve soil. Image credit: Courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

Within 30 years of working alongside peasant farmers, Jean-Baptiste expanded on Haiti’s traditional working groups and over 60,000 community members participated in sustainable agricultural practices, including 20,000 women and 10,000 youth members. Farmers learned how to use natural fertilizers, water-saving drip irrigation systems, and built low-cost erosion-prevention structures. Their work resulted in an increase of long-term crops which decreased dependence on imported foods. It fostered a healthy society by protecting vital water supplies and reducing malnutrition rates in children. The MPP also taught solar manufacturing to provide clean energy for the farmers and planted over 20 million trees. Overall, their work decreased poverty levels in central Haiti and the MPP successfully protected the environment, fostered economic development, and individual survival. This movement became one of the most effective environmental movements in Haitian history.

Jean-Baptiste feels he has a responsibility to defend nature and believes that without a healthy environment, life on the planet will become impossible. It’s with this belief that he still devotes his life to sustainable development and is undeterred by any challenges. He dreams of a greener Haiti for future generations. In 2005, he won The Goldman Environmental Prize, which is one of the world’s largest prizes for grassroots environmentalists.

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